Taliban surrounded in Afghanistan's Kandahar and Helmand provinces


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Map of ISAF Mission in Afghanistan. Click to Enlarge.

The fighting in Afghanistan's south has intensified over the past several months as the Taliban is attempting to gain control of districts prior to the onset of winter. Two of the main flashpoints in the south have been Kandahar and Helmand provinces, where the Taliban can draw on a measure of support from the Pashtun tribes and criminal gangs. The Taliban movement was born in Kandahar province, while Helmand has become the capital of the Taliban's illegal poppy trade.

Kandahar

In Kandahar, a combined force of US, Canadian and Afghan troops have surrounded a formation of Taliban in the Arghandab district estimated at about 200 plus fighters. Fifty Taliban fighters have been killed during the past three days of fighting, while one Afghan soldier and three police were killed.

The Taliban have made a push to attack the Kandahar's provincial capital after the death of Mullah Naqib. Naqib was the powerful and influential tribal leader of the Arghandab district who fought the Soviets during the 1980s. The district is "a key buffer zone between the urban areas under government control and the increasingly hostile districts to the north" of Kandahar City, the Globe and Mail reported at the time of Naqib's death on October 13.

"His passing leaves a dangerous gap in Kandahar city's defences," the Globe and Mail noted. "Mullah Naqib protected Kandahar," said Abdul Rahim Jan, a tribal elder from Panjwai, another Taliban hotspot. "This is a big loss. It's like a thousand people died."

The Taliban have been probing the Afghan and NATO defenses in Kandahar. On October 17, the Taliban "attacked a Coalition reconnaissance patrol using heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire," lightly wounding nine soldiers. On October 27, Afghan and NATO forces battled the Taliban in the Shah Wali Kowt district.

http://canadianpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5iV9DEsV-taqwmYNWsAtQxGQjEV5g
Afghan and NATO forces have conducted several raids against the Taliban in Kandahar since the death of Naqib. The most high profile event resulted in the capture of three Pakistani Taliban "trainers" who were heading to Kandahar from Uruzgan. The Pakistanis, who hailed from Peshawar, "have been attempting to recruit new members to become suicide bombers." On October 30, six Taliban were captured during an operation in Kandahar City, while another five were captured on October 23.

Helmand

Map of region of recent fighting in Helmand province. Click to view.

Helmand province has been the scene of the largest battles in southern Afghanistan since the Taliban declared the start of its yearly "Spring Offensive." The Taliban have launched assault after assault on Afghan and NATO forces operating in the Musa Qala, Kajaki, Nawzad and Sangin districts. Each attack has been beaten back, with the Taliban incurring casualties from the dozens to the hundreds.

The largest battle occurred on September 26, when Afghan Army soldiers, backed by advisors, killed 104 Taliban during a battle near Musa Qala Wadi. On October 19, twelve more Taliban were killed near Musa Qala. Another 36 Taliban were killed on October 20 near Musa Qala, and the last major battle occurred on October 27, when over 80 Taliban fighters were killed.

The Taliban appear to have fallen back on its safe haven in Musa Qala, while the Afghan government and NATO are working to turn a major player in the Taliban leadership. A report from the Telegraph indicates Afghan and NATO forces may have found a pro-Taliban commander and tribal leader who is willing to turn on the Taliban in Musa Qala.

Diplomats confirmed yesterday that Mullah Salaam was expected to change sides within days. He is a former Taliban corps commander and governor of Herat province under the government that fell in 2001.

Military sources said British forces in the province are "observing with interest" the potential deal in north Helmand, which echoes the efforts of US commanders in Iraq's western province to split Sunni tribal leaders from their al-Qaeda allies.

The Afghan deal would see members of the Alizai tribe around the Taliban-held town of Musa Qala quit the insurgency and pledge support to the Afghan government. It would be the first time that the Kabul government and its Western allies have been able exploit tribal divisions that exist within the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

Regions in Helmand province have been Taliban safe havens since the the British cut a deal with the Taliban, under the guise of dealing with the local tribes one year ago. The deal essentially signed over Musa Qala to the Taliban, much like the Pakistani government signed over multiple agencies in its tribal regions to the Taliban. U.S. commanders were furious over the agreement, and it is rumored the French threat to pull its special operations forces out of the south was due to British actions in Musa Qala.

Just after the agreement was inked, the Taliban ran up its black flag over the Musa Qala district center, and fighting between the Taliban and Afghan and NATO forces has been intense. Over 250 Taliban have been killed during five intense ambushes on Afghan and NATO patrols, with few Afghan or NATO casualties. The Taliban lost 80 fighters in the latest attack. Three senior Taliban leaders -- Mullah Dadullah, Mullah Berader, and Qari Faiz Mohammad -- have been killed in strikes in Helmand province over the past several months.

From Pakistan

The fighting in southern and eastern Afghanistan spiked this year after the Pakistani government cut a series of peace deals with the Taliban and al Qaeda in the tribal agencies and settled districts of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. The Taliban also maintains significant bases and command and control facilities in Pakistan's Baluchistan province.

NATO and Afghan forces are stretched thin in Afghanistan, while the Taliban maintains its safe havens across the border in Pakistan. NATO and Afghan forces will continue to fight a holding action in Afghanistan until the Taliban and al Qaeda are uprooted from their bases along the borders in Pakistan.



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READER COMMENTS: "Taliban surrounded in Afghanistan's Kandahar and Helmand provinces"

Posted by MattR at October 31, 2007 1:40 PM ET:

I need help understanding this. The Brits sign Musa Qala over to the Taliban, then kick the snot out of them until they decide the Taliban is not what they want? If it works I'm all for it, but how does it work? Is this an example of you have to wait until people suffer under the insurgents long enough before they'll join the good guys? Or are NATO forces just taking advantage of a mistake the Brits made?

Posted by Neo at October 31, 2007 2:46 PM ET:

I think the Brits made a few assumptions that weren't true. Musa Qala is remote, the fight there was assumed to be local, and if not bothered they would pretty much keep to themselves.

Wrong! wrong! wrong!

Musa Qala might be a fairly remote offshoot of the upper Helmond valley. The problem is if you keep going north in the Helmond valley past the reservoir at the north end and through the mountian passes you end up just west of Kabul. This is a well used backdoor route between the south of Afghanistan and the Kabul area.

Of course that just what the Taliban did, was press it's attack northward toward the reservoir. Imagine that!

Posted by Neo at October 31, 2007 3:06 PM ET:

Sorry guys, going passed the mountain passes at the northern end of the Helmond valley will take you into the Oruzgan valley and does not lead into the Kabul area but the central highlands and eventually into Hazara territory further north. I should have checked a topographical map before saying that. You won't get anywhere near Kabul that way not unless you're a mountain goat.

Posted by Alex at October 31, 2007 6:16 PM ET:

This is good news. From Michael Yon's reports, things haven't been going so well.

Any thoughts on how to proceed from here? Yes, destroy the enemy...I mean more specifically as to how.

Posted by Winger at October 31, 2007 7:54 PM ET:

I keep trying to think of what the Taliban & Al Qaeda leadership strategy is. It would seem they are not concerned about losses because those killed are Martyrs and thats a good thing. If they can stretch the fight out over the long term, they probably expect the West to lose the political will and just give up. That is probably their main strategy.

Hiding behind the locals give them good cover and they have the propoganda wing set up to fully exploit any attacks on them. If civilians get killed, they go into full bore Crusade propaganda. Those people don't get to hear about the real reason for the civilian deaths which is human shield activity by the Taliban.

Sometimes the civilians probably figure it out but since their Mainstream media tells them different, it is hard for them to accept and come to grips with. Kinda like here in the US except we now have the internet and sites like Bill Roggios to get the real story out.

The locals eventally get tired of the constant death and destruction though and begin to complain. That is when the Taliban begin to kill and terrorize them.

So you begin with Islamic brainwashing, send waves of men to their Martyr deaths, hide behind the locals by providing social order and services for locals (ie Hezbollah), propagandize with Crusader terms, terrorize and intimidate all those who don't go along with you, and try to create as much death and chaos for your enemy to break their will (knowing Islam teaches your side death is good and that Western society does not like it). Then they claim they are doing this all in the name of Islam and only to impose Shariah law (how innocent).

The peace deals and cease fires are only used to limit their death toll so they can outlast the West. They use it to regroup, recruit and train new soldiers. If they did not have cease fires, they would have many more soldiers killed than they can recruit. In other words, their ranks would be decimated at a faster rate than they can absorb.

If we recognize their strategy, why do we continue to facilitate it. We should put the full court press on before the winter to deny them areas. Also, since the winter limits movement in those mountainous areas, they figure they are safe. They can't get out but we can't get in.

Wrongo, Mr Taliban, we have air assets and you do not. You should be immobile but we should have the ability to continue to target you and continue with the COIN technique of attrition throughout the winter.

Walking the line between killing as many as possible without aiding their recruiting efforts. We should rachet up the pressure now to limit the effectiveness of their strategy. The Taliban hold territory in Afghanistan? Give me a break.

Posted by Jim at November 1, 2007 3:38 AM ET:

So what has been going on in this fight over the last 24 hours? The stories online are basically unchanged from what I heard on the TV news Wednesday morning.

Posted by ajacksonian at November 1, 2007 5:33 PM ET:

For fighting in Afghanistan the thing we really need is every single Alpine and Mountain Warfare unit in NATO. The Canadians cycled their mountain warfare troops in over last winter and staged a low-visibility winter campaign that yielded much this year in stopping the Taliban from getting organized and even scoping out training camps. In this sort of terrain small units able to go with limited supplies are the most valuable thing to have... it is very telling which troops get mentioned in the reports from Afghanistan and which do not.

Mountain warfare is generally LIC oriented but over a sustained period. That is what these types of troops train and equip for and their abilities are startling beyond their numbers. That 200 Taliban is a viable fighting force due to terrain and climate and it is being countered with something a bit larger but also adapted to the terrain and climate. Where are the Gebirgsjäger, Alpini, Chasseurs Alpins? This is not a huge logistical problem due to the numbers of troops involved, but their effectiveness in operating in such climates and terrain is priceless... and get them some combat experience although the trianing itself has often proven to be dangerous...

Posted by Winger at November 1, 2007 7:01 PM ET:

Exactly

The enemy relies on their mountain warfare skills to hide and launch attacks. We need to counter with more and better of the same to be more successful. Time is of the essence here. We can not allow the enemy to extend the war. That is when Western support will fade and their strategy will win out.

We also need to be careful that we don't give them any soldiers as hostages. They know how to exploit that for huge gain.

Posted by Rhyno327/lrsd at November 6, 2007 10:38 AM ET:

Where the Brits tricked? You DO NOT negotiate with these people, that gives them time to regroup and refit. As far as the Alpine units mentioned, thier gov.'s have not allowed them to join the fight. I know there was 200 French SF operating, but were pulled a while ago. Don't hold ur breath for the Germans, Italians or Spanish to leave the comfort of thier safe northern barracks anytime soon. If at all. NATO is a disgrace. Those 4 members have almost 10k troops in country-but are not allowed to fight. As for winter, mountainous ops, the Marine Corps and Army have units that specialize in that area. Small, 6-8 man teams can provide intel by surveilling enemy positions that can be eliminated by air-strikes. No need to laze thier positions. Just punch in the GPS co-ordinates-and BOOM! Just are stretched too thin.